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Exotic animals to stay quarantined at zoo

Six exotic animals that were among dozens freed by their suicidal owner and survived a big-game hunt by sheriff's deputies with shoot-to-kill orders will be kept under quarantine at a zoo for now instead of going to his widow, the state Department of Agriculture ordered Thursday.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was trying to stop Marian Thompson from reclaiming three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear that have been cared for by the zoo since last week, when owner Terry Thompson mysteriously set them and other wild animals including tigers and lions free in a rural area of eastern Ohio. The other animals were killed by each other or by sheriff's deputies armed with high-powered rifles.

The zoo said it had Marian Thompson's permission to care for the six surviving animals, which have been kept separate from other animals, but has no legal rights to them. A veterinary medical officer for the Department of Agriculture looked at the animals and determined they needed to remain quarantined as allowed by Ohio law, which provides for the agriculture director to quarantine animals while investigating reports of potentially dangerous diseases.

The announcement came after Gov. John Kasich, upon learning the widow planned to retrieve the animals, asked the agency to ensure they didn't pose a health threat.

The Department of Agriculture said it was concerned about reports that the animals had lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease, and the order provides a chance to investigate their health. It prevents the zoo from releasing them until it's clear they're free of dangerous diseases.

A zoo official said Thursday that Terry Thompson had housed animals in tiny muddy shelters made of plywood, many without roofs. The grizzly bear was kept in an enclosure "about the size of a parrot cage," while the monkeys were found in a similar-size cage, chief operating officer Tom Stalf said.

"The facility was small with many, many animals -- too many for them to care for," Stalf said.

It appeared Marian Thompson had planned to take the animals back to the farm near Zanesville, Department of Agriculture spokesman Andy Ware said. Thompson and her lawyer were informed of the order when they arrived at the zoo with a big truck on Thursday afternoon.

Thompson is entitled to a hearing within 30 days if she wants to appeal.